Friday, June 8, 2018


Last Monday (6/4) we were reading Dru Sefton’s report in Current about CPB’s latest “state of the system” analysis [link]. 

The study found that while larger stations are growing in members and revenue, smaller stations are loosing ground both metrics. 

The conclusion is that public broadcasting is increasingly a world of the “haves” and the “have nots.”

Then, by coincidence, an email arrived from Jody Evans CEO of the Public Radio Program Directors association (PRPD) with details about the upcoming Public Radio Content Conference (PRCC). 

Look for the latest PRCC information further down in this post.

The first thing we noticed is the high cost to attend the PRCC this year in Austin. Registration fees are approaching $1,000 for PRPD members and $1,500 for non-members. We began to wonder if PRPD is pricing the PRCC out of the reach of many public media organizations and individuals.

The PRCC is certainly too expensive for us to attend. Even as PRPD members, the cost for us to attend could top $3,000 including airfare, hotel room, food and logistics. Also, PRPD does not provide press passes for journalists who cover public media.

Until recent years we would never miss a PRPD conference. We’ve been to over 20. We will miss attending the PRCC this year.  Public media is so deep in my DNA that it seems like the annual rings of a tree.  But, that’s enough about us.


To examine the full range of public radio's 2018 conferences we assembled the chart on the left. Plus, we contacted Evans for her thoughts.

Greater Public’s PRDMC and PRPD’s PRCC have the most expensive registration costs. Greater Public usually has the most people attending. The organization also draws development and marketing folks from public television.

The least expensive conferences are WXPN’s Triple A NONCOMMvention and NFCB’s Community Media conference.  Note that NFCB’s national event occurs every other year.  In 2018 NFCB is holding several Regional Summits.

We asked ourselves Why is the NONCOMM so much cheaper – How do they do it.  We asked a conference insider (on background) and we learned:

1. The NONCOMM is not held in a hotel, it is held at WXPN’s facility World Cafe.

2. Music companies (“labels”) provide the entertainment, food and drink.

3. The NONCOMM does not raise money for the sponsoring organization. Most other public media organizations use proceeds from their annual conference to pay for day-to-day operations.

4. The folks who run the NONCOMM have chosen to keep registration fees low because it is part of their mission. Because Triple A is a newer public media music format, folks at the NONCOMM want to spread the love and the best practices to increase the format’s success.


According to PRPD’s IRS Form 990 covering the period from 7/1/15 through 6/30/16, the most recent data available, the organization had total revenue of $792,995.

The PRPD conference was PRPD’s largest source of funds in the fiscal year - $405,110 – 51% of the group’s income. Most the remaining funds came from membership fees.

PRPD’s costs for the conference in the same fiscal year were $347,879. This means that PRPD’s “margin” – the net gain of revenue - was $57,231.

These numbers demonstrate the importance of getting the maximum amount of money from conference attendees.  If something costly and/or catastrophic happens, and a conference loses money, other organization activities may need to be cut.

This happened to PRPD in 2001 when the annual conference in Baltimore was scheduled to start on September 12th. The events of “9/11” caused the conference to be cancelled, at considerable cost to PRPD. It was the largess of public radio’s largest institutions that saved the day for PRPD.


It is fair to say that PRPD’s annual conference, the PRCC, is geared toward the largest stations in the public radio system. Of course, the big stations have the vast majority of public radio’s listeners. People from the largest stations are most likely to have the money to attend. But, what about getting vital programming ideas and methods to folks running smaller stations? Isn't it PRPD’s mission to improve programming at all public radio stations?

For insight we conducted a brief email interview with Jody Evans as PRPD prepares for the PRCC August 20 – 23 in Austin [link]:

Spark News: What are the competitive challenges for the PRCC?

Evans: Competition for time and attention is a challenge we face with the communities we serve, and it’s no different for our professional ranks. Just as our listeners are selecting from an explosion of new content on a wider range of platforms, with very distinct value propositions, the public radio content community has a wealth of media, journalism, engagement and marketing convenings  from which to choose. The list is growing every year!

Spark News: Why is attending the Public Radio Content Conference important to the people who work in public media?

Evans: Career development is a personal choice. The Public Radio Content Conference is a very focused meeting that serves a distinct media community. “Public radio content makers” is a very specific space, with a distinct culture, and PRPD is intensely focused on helping that community navigate the increasingly challenging worlds of user consumption, cultural relevance, and general sustainability.

Spark News: What is PRPD doing to keep costs reasonable for PRCC?

Evans: It’s true, the economics of event production are particularly hard on smaller events like The Content Conference, but we’re pleased with our ability to hold the line on costs. After years of no increases, we had to increase member rates by $49 from 2015-2016 and rates have not changed for PRPD members from 2016-2018. 


The theme of the PRCC is Engagement for Everyone.

The 2018 conference will be the most format-inclusive in the organization’s history. As every public radio station grapples with consumption, relevance and sustainability, the PRPD is committed to creating a setting where content leaders can learn, network and advance their careers.

Engagement for Everyone is our first, featured session.

Community engagement has reached a new inflection point. The promise of expanded skills that facilitate deeper, richer relationships with a wider cross section of our community is smacking headlong into cynicism.

Misunderstanding of the discipline, and what it offers, abounds. In some organizations, engagement has collapsed into Audience Outreach and Diversity & Inclusion plans. At others, the focus on relationships has allowed teams to expand and modernize the concept of public service.

KPCC’s Ashley Alvarado is going to bring together a small team of practitioners who will demonstrate the ways we can make Engagement for Everyone a reality and a welcome addition to the public radio toolkit.

Some of the breakout sessions you’ll find in Austin:

• Next Gen Radio: Preparing Future Radio Professionals
• Developing a Successful New Show
• The Rise of AAA
• Solution Journalism

• New Voices Reshaping Daily News
• How to Program for Smart Speakers
• Audience Insight: a live focus group with Austin radio listeners
• The Culture of Journalism is Bigger

Registration and more information about the 2018 Public Radio Content Conference is available here.


  1. FWIW, attending the NAB conference in Vegas every April was one of the more expensive ones you could do. These days, I don't think that's as true as it used to be. Hotel costs have gotten so high in so many cities that I've found I can, with some effort, find places to stay in Vegas for reasonable-ish rates that are still perfectly good hotels. And not too far off-Strip, either.

    While I detest Vegas in general, I have to admit two really nice things about the town are that A: it's REALLY well set up for conferences, and B: there are a ton of good Vegas flights to/from pretty much anywhere in the country. An awful lot of other cities have real problems in both those arenas.

    Honestly, PREC and BEA have already made the plunge and hold their annual conferences in conjunction with NAB. I think it's worth it for PRPD, RTNDA, PRNDI, and many of the others to look hard at doing the same.

  2. I know grassroots community radio isn't really on your radar, but the Grassroots Radio Conference is at least worth a mention.